I was looking forward to catching up with my old PR pal Bill Vigars Thursday night in Toronto. The BC-based author was in town to promote his sensational new book, “Terry & Me: The Inside Story of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope” (Sutherland House).
Every Canadian household needs this book. It is an essential read about a true Canadian hero written by the guy who, almost by accident, was thrown together with Fox, on the road, halfway across Canada. It is an insider-y, eye-witness account of a moment in time that gripped and defined a nation, 43 years ago.
But first, more about me. I decided to park my car near the Royal York station and take the subway across town to the book signing venue on the Danforth, the Black Swan pub. It was rush hour, a horror drive. Taking the TTC, I figured, would give me time to read another 30 pages of Bill’s great book.
The subway car, however, came to a halt and stayed stalled at a station two stops before my destination. Codes were squawked over a speaker that sounded like the start of Jacque Tati’s “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.” Nothing was happening. 15 minutes went by and I was already late.
Damn I thought. Two more stops. Dare I ditch and walk it? Then I looked at the book, and there was Terry Fox staring back, Terry Fox who got up at 4 am each day and ran a full marathon on one leg and a primitive prosthetic that was never designed to take a daily pounding over three thousand, three-hundred and thirty-nine miles. What Would Terry Do?
So I fled the subway and hiked the maybe one-and-a-half kilometers to the bar. Sure, it was hot in this late summer Toronto heatwave. Look up “least I could do” in the dictionary, there’s my picture.
I got there in time to see Vigars, who claimed he was nervous, make a perfect speech to a packed house.
Of the book he said, “I wrote it as though Terry was standing and reading it over my shoulder. I can’t remember where I left my car keys this morning but I can remember what happened 43 years ago.”
Thank goodness, because even though Vigars and me covered much of the same Terry talk two years ago when he guested on my podcast, there are surprises on every other page of this new book. For one thing, Fox was so careful not to fake even a step of his journey he had his younger brother Darrell drop a plastic bag full of gravel on the very roadside spot where the marathon had ended the night before.
Darryl Fox rode in the van Ford donated for the journey along with Terry’s friend Doug Alward and, for much of the journey, Vigars. At the time, the future film and TV publicist was just a guy from the Canadian Cancer Society, sent to check up on Fox and make sure the agency wasn’t backing a fraud.
Vigars was awed at Fox’s resolve and could see right away that the 21-year-old runner was not just real but special. He ended up running much of the way with him, jogging pounds off his 32-year-old frame and leaving him in the shape of his life.
Not just physically. What Vigars gained from those months you could never bottle, but he generously shares it in “Terry & Me.” This book is a tonic. You feel lifted and humbled reading it.
Vigars includes the full text of a letter Fox wrote to a nurse who encouraged his recovery. Judith Ray was there at the BC hospital when Fox, an athletic 18-year-old, had one leg amputated above the knee. Ray formed a tight bond with Fox. Her words of encouragement helped focus an already very determined individual to set even higher goals.
Fox’s four-page letter to Ray, written just months before the start of his journey, lays out his vision for his marathon. It is a powerful, inspiring, motivational document and it almost made me cry on the subway.
Vigars says parts of the book came to him in three day bursts. He had help and guidance with the storytelling from former Toronto Sun scribe Ian Harvey. An unrelated Harvey, Gail (who has gone on to a distinguished career as a TV and film director), was the shooter on the spot who turned her camera on Fox over much of the marathon. She captured some incredible public and intimate photos and a few of her best are in the book,
Sutherland House has done a nice job making “Terry & Me” handy and affordable ($23.95USD/$26.95 CAD). Buy five or six, Christmas is coming.
One further note: Fox’s goal in 1980, when his marathon took him halfway across Canada, was to maybe raise a million dollars for cancer research. People thought he was mad.
Forty-three years later, the amount raised worldwide has topped a billion with a “B.” At the bar, Vigars told of a memorable trip to China to visit his daughter where he witnessed hundreds of school kids running and raising money in Fox’s name.
It has all had an incredible impact. Vigars writes that Fox’s initial cancer diagnosis was grim, with doctors giving him a 15 per cent chance of survival. Today, thanks to research funded in part by Fox’s legacy, the usual prognosis is 50 per cent or better.
There is a 100 per cent chance you’ll cherish this book.